In spring 2011, the Service-Learning Coordinator assembled a Challenge Task Force. After meeting with community leaders the service plan was developed for the Challenge. Upon returning from the White House briefing in August, task force members clarified the goals and objectives, renaming our response to the President’s challenge: Campus and Community Service Collaborations (CCSC). We felt that this would remove a potential misunderstanding of ‘interfaith’, and therefore be more inclusive. Our goals however remained committed to promoting collaboration and conversation between people of very diverse belief sets. An advertisement template, website and Facebook pages were created to serve as a means for communicating amongst student and partner groups and for uniformity. Members of the Task Force met with student organizations and the Student Senate at the beginning of the semester to engage student leaders and invite them to participate. A short student survey was created and distributed at the annual Organization and Business Expo, the survey findings gave the task force an idea of the types of service projects students were eager to participate in and what they considered as a pressing issue. Poverty and communication between town and gown were noted as prominent concerns.
Fall 2011 Service Outcomes
Our kick-off event was a 9/11 remembrance with participation from the Vice-President of Student Affairs, the counseling center, Service-Learning, and the WSC band/choir.
We continued with a campus wide service event to commemorate the 12th collegiate presidential inauguration at Wayne State College. President Curt Frye’s suggested a ‘campus-wide service event’ to mark the inaugural event. Students, staff, faculty, alumni and friends were encouraged to send a handwritten note of thanks to those people in their lives that have made a difference. The project included a September 14 and 29th gathering at the Student Center to hand write notes and an outreach effort for alumni and friends through the social networking platform Facebbok.
The President’s Office paid for all the cards and postage. Approximately, 600 thank you cards were written and sent out globally.
Our original goal based on conversations with community partners was to increase support for low income families by assisting organizations and programs impacted by the economic recession. In particular we worked together to generate funding and opportunities for involvement by coordinating the first of two community wide ‘Gently Used Sales’. The sales involved many campus and community organizations working together, for a total of 170 donated hours over a six day time frame, and increased visibility for these groups while generating $1,350.00 to be used for low income family assistance. The funds were given to the local Goldenrod Hills Community Action organization where they could be disseminated for aid with fuel costs, education, or medical expenses.
Next, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week was addressed. Student Activities hosted a Hunger Banquet where over 100 students were acquainted with hunger issues through discussions lead by a Sociology instructor. Another Sociology class collected items for the local food pantry, and approximately 100 students worked together for about 90 hours to package 16,512 Mercy Meals (each meal feeds a family of six). Mercy Meals, provides these nutritiously balanced meals to relief zones or communities with chronic malnutrition challenges. The Mercy Meals representative said the meals packed at our event would go to either Kenya or Philippines.
We stepped out of our Rural Midwest comfort zone and coordinated a community wide ‘conversation’ attended by 85 students, community members, faculty and staff representing seven countries. The question “Why do you serve?” provided a springboard for lively discussion amongst participants gathered at round tables. Their thoughts and comments were collected, and will be used to determine topics for a number of “Brown Bag” Luncheon topics on campus. This was a very risky undertaking that asked people to talk about values and ideals that they are passionate about, and may not always agree on. The college president, student senate president, and city mayor acted as discussion hosts while task force members helped to facilitate the conversation. The evening included a sampling of breads from a variety of ethnicities, generous provided through WSC presidential funds. Follow up reflections indicated that the experience was enlightening and meaningful. Our second conversation is planned for March 29, 2012.
We continued the conversation with our first campus Brown Bag Luncheon presentation, where a student and staff member shared meditation techniques and benefits. This was especially relevant as the student entered into their final week of the semester. Approximately, 30 students, faculty, and staff attended.
We will continue the Brown Bag series for the spring semester; four dates have already been set. In addition, we will be hosting a Sunday matinee documentary discussion at the local theater.
The outcomes have been a remarkable and inspiring opening of doors to casual and formal conversations about what we believe, think, value and why we are motivated to serve. The first Brown Bag lunch explored the topic of Meditation and explored the practice of meditation amongst diverse believe sets, again acting as a bridge towards common ground. We believe that in a safe and non-judgmental environment these beginning seeds of appreciation for diversity will continue to grow.
As an example, in our first ‘Conversations’ Round Table discussions, people of very diverse belief sets shared their values openly. In particular, one freshman student professed that she is Buddhist – and felt very isolated here in Northeast Nebraska. At another table a faculty member who is Hindu also shared her story. In our first Brown Bag discussion on Meditation, this freshman student was asked to present her practices of meditation. She provided an impressive background of meditation practices. The outcome of the discussion was that each religious group present shared their own practice of meditation within their own belief sets. To see a young student lead such a discussion was humbling and rewarding.
We created a student survey designed for project ideas and reflection statements were collected in regard to the conversation. In addition, our web page allows interested individuals to leave comments, suggestions, and ideas. The Facebook page has been additional avenue for comments and information sharing.
The CCSC Website is a great way to promote events and report outcomes for campus and community partners. We can evaluate participation by numbers and hours, but there are also intangible and subjective outcomes perceived by coordinators and documented in comments made during conversations. Perhaps the most powerful outcome so far is that people are joining together to coordinate resources, personnel and assets to solve community and global problems. In the process we are becoming friends and partners. By opening the doors to ‘safe’ conversations about our differences, we have found common and mutual respect.
Each event/program was an exercise in unchartered waters we went into every event anxious but hopeful. Much to our surprise and delight the projects/events have been successful and well received. Today, at the monthly Rotary meeting, a community member said, “We have been talking about improving town and gown relationships and communication for 20 years, now someone is finally doing something about it.” This is how sustained programs begin, they begin with recognizing there is need, followed by purposeful actions that are led by a dedicated group that exudes passion and enthusiasm, and has both community and campus support. At Wayne State College the Campus and Community Service Collaborations Challenge initiative personifies this. Our spring calendar of events is already full.